The city of Charleston, South Carolina has made it on Travel + Leisure’s Best Cities list for the past three years, taking the #1 spot for the past two years in a row. And it’s not hard to understand why. Charleston seems to have something for every kind of traveler- history, architecture, a world-renowned dining scene, the beach, shopping, great weather.
While living in this beautiful city for two years, I enjoyed getting to know the side of Charleston that most tourists do not- the young and quirky, the places you won’t find in a guide book but which are nevertheless worth scoping out. Charleston is known for its antique charm, but many would be surprised to learn that this peninsula has another side to it that is modern, young, creative, and (dare I say) hipster.
Restaurants & Bars
Enjoy the tastes of Spain at this lively tapas restaurant which makes incredible, authentic paella (allow at least 40 minutes for them to prepare it), innovative cocktails, and live music on Thursday nights.
Tucked away in the quiet Harleston Village, just north of the Battery, is what I consider one of Charleston’s best coffee shops.
Butcher & Bee started off as a small lunch spot with limited hours and a daily-changing menu. They have since moved to a larger location with a full menu and more regular hours. Their menu is a fusion of Mediterranean and Low-country, with a focus on fresh, seasonal ingredients.
A dimly lit bar and restaurant with a good selection of draft beers and updated bar food.
Modern Asian cuisine with vegan and vegetarian options.
A no-frills restaurant serving Caribbean-influenced vegan comfort food.
Voted one of the best pizzerias in the country is EVO Pizza, which is worth the journey up to North Charleston. They also offer a delicious vegan pizza.
A casual American eatery serving primarily soups and sandwiches, with vegan and gluten free options.
Housed inside a warehouse-style building designed to resemble a small-town grocery, chef and owner Kevin Johnson has created a neighborhood gathering spot with an innovative, seasonally-changing, and farm-fresh menu.
A small counter-serve cafe selling light, healthy items including smoothies, acai bowls, and avocado toast.
A coffee shop with an outdoor terrace that also serves craft beers and hosts live music on the weekends.
An upscale restaurant with a beach-y, rustic interior on Sullivan’s Island, serving a fusion of Southern and Italian cuisines.
This Prohibition-era inspired bar and restaurant is a great place to go for cocktails and dancing.
One of city’s most popular rooftop bars is located on top of Stars Restaurant, in the young and lively Upper King district. The restaurant is upscale, farm-fresh cuisine in an elegant setting.
A restaurant with plentiful seating both indoors and outdoors, serving tacos and other Mexican fare and delicious margaritas. Locations in downtown Charleston and on Folly Beach.
This Asian/ Low-country fusion restaurant offers a seasonally changing menu with vegan, vegetarian, and gluten free options in an old, converted gas station. Be warned, the dishes can be very, very spicy, and not for the faint of taste buds!
A boutique selling hand-crafted, fair trade goods, now located right on King Street, Charleston’s main shopping street. The company partners with organizations that donate locally and globally, and offers a variety of fashion, home, food, and gift items.
Shop for locally made candles and other gift items at the company that started Rewined Candles (candles made using recycled wine bottles).
Ibu partners with 71 artisan groups in 34 countries to help women around the world create “economic self-sufficiency through the art of their hands.” Visit their showroom on King Street for colorful, exotic, and well-crafted fashion apparel, jewelry, home goods, and more.
Indigo & Cotton
A men’s and women’s fashion boutique that stocks a variety of sustainable brands including Ace & Jig, Imogene & Willie, and Raleigh denim. They focus on high-quality clothing and accessories, and many products are made from natural and sustainable fabrics like hemp, linen, organic cotton, and salvaged denim.
Harper Poe, the founder of the global textile brand Proud Mary, partners with artisans and cooperatives around the world to produce beautiful items that help preserve age-old craftmanship.
An 80’s inspired vintage shop that sells its goods out of a converted van called the DreamStream. Check the website for their daily whereabouts.
An upscale lifestyle boutique with a Scandinavian aesthetic selling a variety of clothing, accessories, candles, and gift items.
Things to Do
Charleston City Market
The Historic Charleston City Market, which has been in existence since the early 1800’s, houses hundreds of craft and food vendors selling a variety of locally made products. Pick up a bag of stone-ground grits and local jam so you can continue to enjoy the low-country cuisine after you return from your trip, or one of those famous sweetgrass baskets you find in every Charleston home.
Take a Walking History Tour
Free Tours by Foot offers pay-what-you-want walking historical tours of the city with expert guides.
Have a Beach Day
Charleston has several beaches in close proximity, each with their own vibe. Folly Beach tends to draw a younger, rowdier crowd, while Sullivan’s Island is more laid-back. Further north, Isle of Palms has a more resort-y feel.
Take a Yoga Class
Yoga + Beer is what Bendy Brewski is all about. Founder and local yogi Beth Cosi offers flow-based classes at local breweries, which are followed by a beer tasting. Tickets are $15 and you can check out the schedule here.
Charleston Power Yoga is one of Charleston’s oldest and most beloved studios, and the newer, roomier Urban Yoga is eco-friendly and sells sustainable yoga brands like Teeki and Manduka.
Join a BYOB Candle Making Class
Candlefish offers BYOB candle-making workshops during the weekends and on occasional weekdays. For $55 you get to make and bring home two scented candles, while drinking and chatting with your friends. A fun alternative to the usual weekend brunch!
Sample Local Beer
Dozens of local breweries now occupy the Charleston area, including Revelry Brewing and Palmetto Brewery in downtown Charleston, Holy City Brewing in North Charleston, and Frothy Beard Brewery in West Ashley. Visit the local breweries yourself to sample their beers, or head to Bay Street Bier Garten where you can find many of them on tap.
Check out the Architecture
Walk along the waterfront in the Battery, then get lost in the surrounding streets and neighborhoods, to see some of the most well-preserved historical houses in the country. The cobblestone streets and mix of Colonial, Victorian, and Classic Revival style buildings will transport you back in time.